In another Google story, the Financial Times (registration required) punctures some of the mythology around the legendary algorithm that powers Google search.
First of all, it’s a work in progress. There were some 500 tweaks to the algorithm last year alone, some of which radically effect online businesses, some of whom are Google competitors.
“Some of those changes may change ranking substantially for some queries – that’s the nature of it,” says Amit Singhal, the Google search expert responsible for the algorithm. But he denies that the search company has any particular class of sites in mind when making changes to the rules that determine how they are ranked, or that it “penalizes” any by singling them out for special treatment.”
That’s a myth, says Dave Sifry, founder of Technorati, a specialized Internet search engine ad Google competitor.
“I don’t think it’s anywhere near being nefarious – but algorithms are not just pure rules that arrive out of nowhere.” By changing its mathematical formula to modify the results returned to a particular query, Google’s engineers are making judgments very similar to the editorial decisions made at a more traditional media organization, he and others argue.”
And, even if Google’s engineers are well-meaning in their approach to the search rankings – as some critics are prepared to concede – their good intentions may not be enough.
“We can’t be sure that Google 10 years from now won’t be corrupt – or that whoever is the dominant search engine won’t be corrupt,” Siva Vaidhyanathan, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, told the FT.